BY SAM FARLEY

Cheating is horrible in all areas of life. Husband’s with lipstick on their collar; billion-pound corporations fiddling their tax; that bloke who coughed his way to a million quid on Who Wants To Be a Millionaire. [i]

Cheating in football is especially abhorrent. An acrobatic dive is the sort of thing that raises heartbeats to near fatal level in pubs across the country and leaves people so angry that they reach that deep level of red that only an organic beetroot or Alan Brazil can achieve. It infuriates people even more when the “cheating scum” have a fancy foreign name, this is because nobody called David or Alan would ever dream of cheating intentionally. Ask anybody wearing a Harrington jacket and they’ll tell you it’s an epidemic that’s crept in from abroad. “It’s ruining football” he says, except, well, it isn’t. Cheating, or rather the theatrical nature of cheating, is magnificent and it adds to the spectacle of the beautiful game.

Is a dive or a little roll around really that bad? If we’re honest with ourselves have we not all heard cheers when one of our players scythes through the back of the opposition’s tricky winger. Do we get angry when a chorus of “get into them, fuck them up” soars from the home end? No, because a crunching tackle is deemed part of the game despite being considerably more dangerous than going full Tom Daley in the penalty area. Years of training and effort can be gone in the split second it takes to tear apart a ligament but we’ve grown up being taught by track-suited fathers to “leave one on him”.

There’s a general acceptance that gamesmanship, such as exuberant rolls, faked ankle clips and imaginary card waving, is something alien which has only reached these shores within the last decade and taken over. Your dad will swear nobody dived before ’95 but true or not, this has left diving as the footballing equivalent of Nando’s. An overseas invasion, spread rapidly in British cities before reaching provincial towns and becoming a key piece of British identity. Diving and those imaginary red cards have already reached our playgrounds, much like fidget spinners and Pogs[ii] before them. The battle is lost, it’s time to embrace the new culture and it’s beautiful.

Here’s a guide to the beauty within the various types of gamesmanship:

The dive – Dive? Rooney? Not a chance, he got a little nick off the defender, he’s not that kind of player. Diving is an art form, you’ve got to go down enough to highlight the contact [iii]but not enough that it looks like you’ve faked it and get a booking. The perfect dive is one that features the tiniest, most minute bit of contact, before the player launches themselves forward and flat, like somebody who was eliminated second or third in Splash![iv] Ideally with a squeal that sounds like you just stepped on a plug at 3am.

Pretending to be hit – I’ll be honest, the genre will never reach the spectacular Oscar-worthy heights of Rivaldo vs. Turkey in the 2002 World Cup again, but we can live in hope. I’m talking about proper Hollywood performances here, not the embarrassing stumbles that sometime happen after a push or when somebody claims an elbow after going up for a header. All round entertaining bastard Sergio Ramos recently put on a real acting clinic in the 2017 Champions League final when he got ‘pushed’ by Juan Cuadrado.

The fake injury – This is the one that regularly gets the most people incredibly wound up. It makes your dad want to head-butt the TV off the wall and causes 99% of rugby fans to condemn footballers as cheats whilst forgetting about Bloodgate[v]. “Come on, he’s hardly hurt, get up and run it off” shouts your dad as he picks the pieces of the flat screen off the floor, before the player is taken directly to hospital. A true artist in this field is the Brazilian human-meme David Luiz whose toothy grin to cameras, as Man United’s Rafael received a red card, is the highpoint of this genre.

The deliberate handball – I think if you looked really closely you could link Brexit, the rise of Farage and 99% of anti-foreign feeling back to the infamous Hand of God. Thanks a lot Maradona. Of course, it isn’t just the brilliant Argentinian who has used his hands, with Ireland having been denied a World Cup thanks to Thierry Henry’s left hand. The greatest piece of failed cheating in Premier League history was by England’s very own Steven Taylor who brilliant kept a ball from going in Newcastle’s goal before trying, and failing, to convince the referee it hit his chest, with some acting lifted straight out of Hollyoaks. It also wouldn’t be right to discuss this form of gamesmanship without mentioning the modern game’s arch-cheater and agitator-of-dads Luis Suarez and his incredible reaction save which kept Ghana from a World Cup semi-final in 2010.

In the last example, Suarez’s handball, it is worth noting that his countryman Gus Poyet came out in support afterwards.

“I was little bit disappointed with some people talking about cheating. I think that is absolute rubbish.

“That is taking one for the team. That is making something happen for the rest of their life. That is helping one country of 3.5million people to get to the semi-final for the first time in so many years.

“You are telling me the player had to let the ball go in? Is that football?”

The difference here is attitude. What is accepted elsewhere is vehemently opposed within the British game but as foreign stars continue to influence the playing style in this country it will change. I get the feeling that if Harry Kane were to channel his inner Hugo Lloris and help England reach the next stage of next year’s World Cup in Russia then we might find a lot of people changing their tune.

Gamesmanship, playacting, cheating – whatever you call it, it’s here to stay and it makes the game an even more colourful, exciting and hotly debated place. So, I’m asking you; next time you see a player make the most of a challenge within the penalty area, don’t get angry, breathe and try to find the beauty within the fall, much like that scene with the plastic bag in American Beauty[vi]. Let’s just admire the lengths that these super-human athletes go to in order to propel their teams to victory and remember that nobody sings about being top of the fair-play league on the terraces.

[i] Yes, that’s a seriously old reference but game shows are tosh now and who would want to cheat poor old Bradley Walsh on The Chase?

[ii] Pogs – The GOAT playground craze and I will never go back on this.

[iii] Yeah, he definitely didn’t get touched.

[iv] Splash! – Dreadful reality show about diving with Tom Daley. No idea why my references are so old at this point.

[v] Bloodgate – incident where a team faked a cut to get a blood substitution.

[vi] I only watched this film the other day, so it’s new to me, allow it.

 

FOLLOW SAM ON TWITTER @FarleyWrites

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